JAIMIE VERNON – POP GOES THE WORLD
For the last 15 to 20 years the idea of pop music – like the good old guitar/piano driven stuff we grew up with on the CHUM Top 30 and Billboard Top40 charts – has been Verboten and buried like a forgotten dog bone in the backyard. Like some nerdist guilty pleasure there’s been a counter movement which has dubbed itself the keepers of Power Pop though its supporters can never agree on the definition of the term.
I’ve always considered it Old School Pop which encompasses everything from Paul Anka to Motown to Cheap Trick to Barry Manilow. Having been summarily executed by corporate Rock, Hip Hop and Grunge, we nearly saw a resurgence, briefly when Fountains of Wayne got a boner for “Stacy’s Mom” (and The Cars from whom the band gratuitously steals from during the song and the video) and Fastball found “The Way”. And then there was radio silence.
I’ve noticed an interesting bit of musical creep in my circle of influence lately though. Old School Pop is bubbling up, zombie like, as the ageing generation who weren’t necessarily Classic Rock fans have been discovering artists that continue to generate that carefree, almost naïve, sense of wonder and hookiness we enjoyed as kids. Music without irony. Music without cynicism. Music without razorblades and depressed sonic delivery. Just toe-tapping ear candy confectionery.
Far be it for me to say that Taylor Swift (and her ghost writer Max Martin) is leading the charge for a revival, but she’s certainly kicked the door open and allowed the sunshine to spray all over the Adelebbie Downers of this world. At least Swift has realized that if you’re going to beat up your ex-boyfriend in a song, do it with a wink and a smile. The jackboot to the Old School Pop doorway actually happened with the ubiquitous assault from Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars. It’s the whole deal – a polished Michael Jackson-esque dance video, hooks a mile wide and a not-so-subtle nod to the masters of R & B and Motown. If you’re going to drive the gauntlet in a Funk Monster Truck through the wasteland of radio dirge, do it big. And never apologize. That it’s already been parodied on YouTube and on TV a hundreds is a testament to its power to stick to the roof of your brain.
There is evidence accumulating to support the theory that in 2016 and beyond the acceptance of straight up pop music might get a wider audience again. To wit, the mainstream is teetering on mass acceptance. Jeff Lynne just resuscitated ELO and has a new album ‘Alone In The Universe’ dropping from on high shortly. The new single is promising (though a tad “Whiter Shade of Pale” leaning).
My favourite act from the UK also has a new album due in October and the debut single is very promising. Here is The Enemy with “It’s Automatic”.
In indie pop circles Dana Countryman’s never veered from the course. He’s already on his third solo release in a series he calls POP! His latest, ‘Pop 3!: Welcome To My Time Warp!’, is another instalment of guilt-free pure pop fun. Imagine if you will putting a CD on and being taken back to the 1960s and 1970s Top40 – where you know every tune and yet you’ve never heard ANY of these songs before. Its a clever technique of musical déjà vu that Countryman is very adept at by marrying common pop tropes and Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building lyrical word play.
Songs like “Run Back Into My Arms” and “Don’t You Know You’re Break My Heart” have a Coulter/Wainman (Bay City Rollers, Sweet) feel while “Shari Girl / You’ll Always Be A Baby To Me” is clearly inspired by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” plays on Spiral Staircase’s “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday”. This is not a mere homage to musical styles of the past, however. Countryman lives there. He’s part of the genre that created this type of music in the first place. Like all his releases, it boasts a sleeve full of guest musicians to make the pot sweeter – including Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Imperial Drag, Jellyfish) and Dee Long (Klaatu). There’s even a bonus Christmas tune in anticipation of the coming festivities. |
Fellow American popaholic Herb Eimerman steps out with his newest 5 song EP called “Five Dimensional Man”. It’s pure Power Pop energy on this one exploding out of the gate with the Dwight Twilley/Marshall Crenshaw-esque barn burner “Just Wishful Thinking”. “Live To Tell” treads the jangly guitar twang of The Byrds’ 12-string Rickenbacker sound and delights as Eimerman’s vocal recounts the 1960s era Cat Stevens (when the holy one was a UK pop icon). Similarly, the lovely bittersweet ballads “Believe That I Do” and “Something” (not the Beatles tune) touches on Stevens’ troubadour period vocal wistfulness. The one surprising track here is “Sentimental Berlin” which opens with an almost Nine Inch Nails ‘90s flurry and then settles into more harmonic R.E.M. alternative territory. Overall the record establishes a new definitive tone and direction for Herb. Can’t wait to hear the next full-length release.
Finally, my buddy Mark Hersherger’s label Pop Detective Records has just unleashed a two song EP (hey, isn’t that called a single?) by Norway’s The Dahlmanns called “Girl Band” b/w a remake of Men Without Hats’ “Pop Goes The World”. They have no video for the tunes yet so you can check out what they sound like here:
Pop Detective also just released the new Go Wows and Dead Beat Poets material and a NEW double album release from Dead Beat Poets member Frank Secich’s old pop act Blue Ash. Check ‘em out at http://www.popdetective.com
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon